Studio Visits: Lee Webster
In an old rec room, Lee Webster still animates by hand
Lee Webster's studio is covered in wood paneling – that kind of Seventies wood paneling that can still be found easily in pier-and-beam homes on east Airport Boulevard and Manor Road (near where the artist's studio is located). "I feel I don't belong in a painterly studio," says Webster. "I belong in a romper room." A founding member of the (now defunct?) Austin Video Bee, Webster's practice swings between nonobjective abstraction and quirky takes on traditional landscapes. An example of the latter is the first in a series of videos in which Webster, a native of Philadelphia, sings Bruce Springsteen songs backwards atop an I-35 intersection. The geographies of Philadelphia, Austin, and New Jersey are cross-referenced and cross-pollinated – leaving the artist floating in a kind of generalized American landscape.
Lee Webster: It's kind of messy, but it's always kind of messy. I also feel like I'm a bit of a hoarder.
Austin Chronicle: Believe me, you're not even close! One of the things I was curious about in seeing your studio space is how do you begin to figure out how your films and videos are going to "work" outside of this space?
LW: One day I found a metal medical cart on the side of the road – I pick up a lot of things from the side of the road! – and it wound up being one of the best things I've picked up. It slides around, so it's perfect for figuring out projections and how big or small they need to be. I'll hang up a white sheet if I need to proximate a white wall.
AC: Because you work with some old technology [like] slide and film projectors, do you have a supplier for bulbs?
LW: Yeah, these projectors belong to [local visual artist] Lauren Klotzman, and we work in the same media sometimes. You can find the bulbs online and on eBay, but there are a couple of shops in town that sell them – those light bulb specialty stores. The first time I used projectors was while I was designing for theatre, and I've had bulbs go out on me in that context, so I know what to do.
AC: You use 16mm?
LW: Yes, you can still buy film from Kodak. I do a lot of direct animation – drawing directly onto film – but Kodak doesn't sell the film leader anymore. There's a supplier from Canada I order from for that. I've also been making small light boxes from the animated leader. Sometimes I use bits of light gels to make these direct animations by collaging directly onto the leader. Most of my work is more experimental and narrative-based. I came back to direct animation after having not done it for a long time. It's a counter to my narrative work – much more about form, movement, color, and abstraction.
AC: What's a typical work week in the studio like?
LW: I usually don't get in the studio for full days, I try to get in for three to four days for a few hours a day.
AC: Doing the kind of film animation you do can be incredibly time-consuming, so for a small roll of leader about how many hours of work would you guesstimate goes into that?
LW: Oh, gosh! I don't know – probably 100 hours! Sometimes if I paint on film, I can cover 300 feet of film very quickly, but when I'm doing the more detail-oriented stuff it takes awhile.
To see more of Lee Webster's work, visit www.leewebster.com. Webster will co-facilitate a workshop on direct animation Saturday, April 26, 11am-5pm, at the Visual Arts Center, 2300 Trinity, UT campus. Capacity is limited; to reserve your spot, contact Xochi Solis at email@example.com by March 1.